7 Oct 2013

National Crime Agency: ‘No-one will be beyond the reach’

Senior Home Affairs Correspondent

A new agency to focus on fighting organised crime, child protection, border policing and cybercrime has warned that it will relentlessly pursue criminals.

Bold words from it’s director general Keith Bristow on the day of the launch, his budget is £458m, he has 4,000 staff in 35 offices – including 20 directors, a network of 120 agents in 40 countries and a list of priorities.

What he doesn’t have are targets and performance goals, which the agency with its hundreds of millions of pounds can be measured against.

But Mr Bristow insists the NCA is not a reinvention of the wheel, nor another indistinguishable acronym.

It’s the legacy of, first, National Crime Intelligence Service (NCIS) and the National Crime Squad, a rather disfunctional partnership. Then came SOCA – the Serious and Organised Crime Agency which under leadership of a former spy did almost everything in secret and struggled to form working partnerships with local forces.

Now its Theresa May’s turn to go for the golden chalice of a National Crime Agency which is accountable, focussed, publically known and successful.

Its logo may not be able to match its predessor’s panther gripping the globe but its “crimefighters” have their own uniform with National Crime Agency stamped on the back. Expect to see a lot more of that image in TV pictures.

The agency will target cyber criminals, fraudsters, gangsters, drug smugglers, human traffickers, gun runners, and paedophile networks as previous organisations have done, only they say, there’ll be major differences.

First will be partnerships with the private sector such as banks, accountants and software companies. And there lies a new risk, the danger of compromise or conflict of interest. What will be the public perception of the NCA employing people from a firm which then become the target of an investigation?

FOI exemption

It is also one reason why the NCA is exempt from Freedom of Information Act.

Second , legislation had made the director general the most powerful law enforcer in the UK, someone who can outrank any chief constable in the country if needs be.

And thirdly unlike previous incarnations of a national crimefighting body, NCA is pledging to be transparent about success and, according to Mr Bristow, failure too.

He told me; “We don’t want lots of bureacracy, measuring individual numbers or lots of lines on graphs. We want our officers focusiing on cutting serious and organised crime. and we’ll give the public an insight into the difference we’re making.”

The agency is accountable only to the Home Secretary so it will under pressure have to deliver tangible results within the next 18 months if it’s to avoid a similar fate to its predessors.